Jacqueline Kithinji, Founder and CEO, MSL Yummy poses with some of her products, red onion juice (left) that she sells at 270 shillings for a 250 ml bottle and red onion jam (right) which goes for 450 shillings for a 400 ml bottle. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

When you mention an onion, mostly the first thing that comes to mind are the tears that flow when cutting the layered vegetable. There are quite a number of quotes that have been derived from onions and their tear-sourcing abilities.

Have you ever thought about how easy cooking would be if you could cook without tearing? Jacqueline Kithinji, started a company that makes dried onion flakes, onion powder, onion paste, onion pickles, onion juice and onion jam.

[Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Jacqueline leased land and started farming onions after seeing her cousin do the same with irrigation. This came after a disappointment she endured with chilly.

"I planted chilli, green chilli, but they did not do well, I didn't do it the right way. I was a bit discouraged but that didn't kill me," she says

Jacqueline says that the first market was profitable because it was not yet flooded, but the second the prices were discouraging because there was the flooding of onions from Tanzania.

"You would go to the market and they would tell you, we are now buying from Tanzania. I had thought of value addition before but I had not taken it up, I had not gotten the push" she says



After realizing that the onion market would not give her the profit she deserves she decided to give a different meaning to onions.

"I did research and asked people if there was an onion product served in a different way would you go for it and they were like yeah, we are tied of tearing. It gave me the motivation," she says

She says the implementation was not an easy journey, because she had to work on formulas and samples. Keeping them for some time backfires, and go back to the drawing board.

Jacqueline says she attended some training where she challenged them not just to look at the raw material but what the raw material can offer.

"The training was a wake-up call, look at the economic growth for you and the community the shelf life of the product, job creation and the branding of the product," she says



[Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Challenges

Capital

Small businesses are experiencing substantial financial challenges; Jacqueline says it is hard for them to access loans hence not being able to expand their businesses.

"Sometimes you get good orders that you cannot satisfy because of lack of machinery because you cannot access capital," she says

Jacque says that sometimes banks offer loans that are way below the budget.

"Sometimes you find it's not useful. When I am talking about production and you want to give me sh 200,000 or 150,000, that will not help me," she says

Market

Jacqueline say the raw onion market has a lot of frustrations, the selling price is so low that will not cater for the production cost. Farmers are giving onions to their cows because there's no market.

"If only they could learn how to dry the onions not even do the jam and paste just dry and make the powder that would make a difference," she says

Quality

Jacqueline says that people sometimes would doubt the quality of her product.

"People ask if you cut onions, are they not poisonous. But I tell them no, I have gone through standards. After all the formulations I had to go through KIRDI (Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute), it's not just something that you do in the house, it's a product that we look into the international market," she says

Jacqueline does her production at KIRDI while working with scientists.

A woman in business

"Sometimes it is hard for people to take you seriously, sometimes people want other favours apart from business," she says

Jacqueline says that people believe that a woman cannot come up with such an idea.

"There are also people who want you to fail. They make comments like let us see how far she will go," she says

Currently Jacque has two employees but when they are doing production the number is bigger. She says she has a bias toward women and youth.

Supermarkets

"You get a chance to enter the supermarkets the payment terms are challenging. I am an SME, if you keep my money for 90 days how am I supposed to do my production?" she says

Jacque adds that she hopes that there would be a one stop shop for SMEs in Value addition.